Woodstock mayor calls health announcement ‘wonderful news’

·5 min read

New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard visited Woodstock Friday afternoon, Nov. 19, to announce a proactive project to tackle addiction and mental-health issues, especially among the community’s youth.

As the minister stood at the podium at the AYR Motor Centre’s Gallery Room, Woodstock Mayor Art Slipp and Deputy Mayor Amy Anderson sat in the front row intently listening.

“This is wonderful news,” said Slipp, following the announcement. “This is what we’ve been pushing for as a result of the eight needs identified in the Carleton County Health Needs Assessment.”

He said mental health, primarily geared towards youth, was a priority in that report.

“We’ve been working on this through our two MLAs in this area for quite some time and are pleased to see today’s announcement,” Slipp said.

Shepherd said the pilot project drew inspiration from a successful program in Iceland that began almost 20 years ago, which, over the years, significantly reduced the consumption of drugs and alcohol by the nation’s youth.

A central part of the Icelandic model used youth surveys to determine what drove youth towards bad decisions, then enact measures to address those issues. Those measures included providing youth with more options and better help.

Shephard said New Brunswick’s pilot project requires a community approach, utilizing elected officials, government structure, municipalities and the entire community working to detract youth from using substances.

“It’s an evolution,” she said, following her presentation to a small gathering. “It doesn’t happen quickly, but if we put supports in place that give children and youth an alternative, then we can see the model working over a period of time. It’s about healthy communities. It’s about investing in our youth. It’s about providing options.”

Like the mayor, Anderson sees the pilot project as a positive step towards tackling addiction and mental health challenges.

She said she heard about the Icelandic model and wants to learn more about it. She believes the Carleton County community will step up when needed.

“Awareness is high,” said the deputy mayor.

Shepherd said the five-year pilot project would launch next fall in several New Brunswick communities.

“We need to address high rates of substance use among our youth,” she said. “This is an important project that will allow each participating community to develop a unique response based on its specific challenges and needs.”

The minister said the project involves collaboration between experts in preventing substance abuse.

She said teams of community stakeholders, health promotion partners, volunteers, youth, school community members, researchers and policymakers would identify core issues related to youth substance abuse to develop solutions and action plans.

Slipp has no concern about buy-in and support from the Carleton County community.

“It’s already there,” he said.

Slipp cited several effective organizations in the greater Woodstock area already devoted to mental health issues.

“This will complement programming already in place,” he said.

The mayor said a measuring stick of the project’s success over time would include a reduction in the Woodstock Police Force calls related to mental health and addiction issues.

Woodstock Police Chief John Forward attended the minister’s announcement.

He said the announced pilot project addresses the types of partnerships police have long pursued through the Association of Chiefs of Police.

Forward said the success of the project requires “due diligence” on everyone’s part.

“But if everybody’s pulling in the same direction, I think we stand a real chance of seeing something good here,” Forward said.

Carleton MLA Bill Hogan — who attended the Woodstock announcement with Carleton York MLA Richard Ames and Carleton-Victoria MLA and Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Minister Margaret Johnson — likes the Icelandic model and believes it could tackle one of the key planks in his election platform.

During his election campaign, Hogan cited local crime and addictions as a significant concern.

“It remains that,” he said. “And it ties in nicely with the Icelandic model.”

Hogan said the Icelandic model is to engage the community and engage youth to have other options than drugs or poor choices.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” he said. “Enforcement is part of it, but just a small part of it.”

Shephard said the province would fund the projects through the budget as the programs progress.

“It’s about building resilience within the actual communities,” she said. “So what we have to do is see what each community needs and then put the support behind it.”

She promised the government would deliver the money to support the pilot project.

“We made it a priority so it will be funded,” she said.

Shephard said success would not happen overnight.

“It’s an evolution,” she said.

Shephard said measuring success would mean looking at how many children attend classes, reducing mental-health issues, and checking substance abuse data.

She said the pilot project is one of several initiatives directed towards mental-health services across the province outlined in the government’s recently released new health plan.

“Fifty-one per cent of New Brunswickers have indicated they are at risk of experiencing negative mental health issues due to social isolation, stress and economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shephard. “We are taking action now to address those issues and ensure residents have better access to the addiction and mental health services they need.”

Shephard outlined improvements to mental health services over the next few years.

She said the province would introduce walk-in services at the province’s 14 addiction and mental health clinics within the next year.

By 2023, Shephard said the province would make additional beds available in Campbellton for people seeking mental illness and substance abuse disorder treatment.

It will expand the mobile crisis unit and increase promotion of the Bridge the gApp addiction and mental health website to increase utilization by 20 per cent and provide a timely alternative to traditional services.

Over the next two years, Shephard said the government would launch a provincial 24-7 addition and mental health phone service.

It will provide access to a clinical consultation team for young people with complex needs who live in foster or group homes.

It will add mental health staff to emergency departments.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun

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